Nice Guy, overview

I knew Nice Guy was going to be crazy, but I didn’t think it was gonna be kerazy.

The good thing about Nice Guy was that the pacing in the first fourth of the drama was unusually quick. The story didn’t dawdle and didn’t waste time building up tension; melodramas are usually slow to get the ball rolling, so it was incredibly easy to get into the worlds of Kang Ma-ru, Han Jae-hee and Seo Eun-gi.

Unfortunately, the drama’s quick initial pacing is the only good thing about Nice Guy.

I’m happy that Song Joong-ki finally got a lead drama role that demanded more of his acting abilities than his usual roles have required (cute sageuk guy, cute guy with dog, cute nobody doctor), but this drama was a mess. Nice Guy was filled with implausible plot points and repetitive conflicts, and was doomed with the same flaws that almost all K-melodramas have.

We start with the relationship of Kang Ma-ru (Song) and Han Jae-hee (Park Shi-yeon), one a bright med intern and the other a truth-seeking reporter. Immediately after this cute set-up we’re hit with a whammy: while doing something or another, Jae-hee accidentally kills a man in self-defense and Ma-ru comes to save the day…saving the day so severely that he takes the fall for the murder and is sentenced to prison for it. We’re shown that Ma-ru would rather abandon his critically-ill sister to help his girlfriend, so he must really love Jae-hee and the situation must have been that dire, hence all the more shocking when we learn a few moments later that Jae-hee got married to another man while Ma-ru was in jail.

After jail life, Ma-ru becomes a hardened gigolo who sells his body for money. Ummmmmm, sure.

Along the way, he meets Seo Eun-gi (Moon Chae-won), a bitter and wealthy girl from a family that owns a big company, whose current CEO is married to Han Jae-hee, effectively making Jae-hee Eun-gi’s stepmother and making this triangle very confusing and awkward.

Eun-gi is used as revenge bait, except wait! Eun-gi is so hateful and distrusting that she won’t ever love — which makes her a challenge! — except she does and Ma-ru is the exception. Ma-ru uses Eun-gi to get to Jae-hee, but somewhere in all the revenging, he falls in love with Eun-gi for realsies, and Jae-hee gets jealous, kills everybody, and then eats them.

Okay, Jae-hee doesn’t kill everybody nor does she eat them, but this drama is so thick with melodrama cliches that she might as well have.

Lee Kyung-hee wrote Nice Guy and her last drama was Will It Snow For Christmas, and while that drama was melodramatic and relied on a lot of crying, it was still a much better watch than Nice Guy. WISFC was heavy, no doubt, but the melodrama and crying made sense. Nice Guy started well, but then quickly started to feel like a ratings chaser, with Lee relying on cliches like amnesia and accidental deaths in just to up the ante.

Nothing beyond the 6th episode mark made any sense to me and a huge reason why I couldn’t invest too much into the story is that I didn’t enjoy any of the characters and I wasn’t rooting for anyone. Han Jae-hee is built as an antagonist, so we won’t talk about her, but both Kang Ma-ru and Seo Eun-gi were such disappointments and I’m usually a sucker for hardened characters.

A big part of the problem with Ma-ru is that it never felt like he truly weaned off of Jae-hee, which renders all of his revenge-seeking moot. This really confused me, because every time we got a scene where Ma-ru looked like he finally relinquished all the sentiment he had left for Jae-hee, he would, in a later scene, hesitate again. Whether it was a split-second moment of pause or a slight falter in his eyes…something was always off and I was never convinced that he stopped loving her.

This would be less of a problem if not for the fact that we’re supposed to believe so strongly in Eun-gi’s ability to help redeem Ma-ru, or at least be a catalyst in Ma-ru’s redemption. For a character that was made to seem so battered and hardened by greed and selfishness around her, Eun-gi’s character threw everything by the wayside pretty quickly when it came to Ma-ru, and that just didn’t feel believable to me.

Pacing — an asset to Nice Guy in the beginning — turned out to be a liability towards the second fourth of the drama. Eun-gi fell in love with Ma-ru ridiculously fast, and all the while Ma-ru was still hung up over Jae-hee. Even when we were supposed to believe that Ma-ru was starting to have genuine feelings for Eun-gi, it didn’t settle for long enough before Eun-gi lost her dad and then got into the car accident. The amnesia arc of the story happened so quickly that it felt more like Ma-ru cared for Eun-gi out of guilt and obligation. I completely feel like Ma-ru’s sense of moral duty eventually led to a sense of loyalty and his kindheartedness compelled him to take care of Eun-gi and that he never felt for Eun-gi what he felt for Jae-hee.

The reason why I’m so picky about the plausibility of the love lines is that we’re supposed to believe that Ma-ru’s love for Jae-hee was so strong that he essentially went to jail for it. His anger from being betrayed was so intense that it compelled him to be ruthlessly dishonest in taking revenge through Eun-gi, which in turn was supposed to backfire because he ends up falling in love with Eun-gi because of her personality, blah blah blah. I didn’t feel any of this intensity in either relationship.

I don’t think Song Joong-ki has chemistry with Park Shi-yeon, so that dented things a little. That wouldn’t have mattered because we’re not supposed to be rooting for that relationship anyway, but even by the end it felt more like Ma-ru was more in love with Jae-hee than he was with Eun-gi. On the other hand, he also didn’t have a lot of chemistry with Moon either, and combined with the quickness of that relationship, it all felt very unbelievable to me. If the relationships are unbelievable, the entire drama becomes moot because all of the politicking and maneuvering felt more dramatic than it was.

There were many a loose end that never resolved themselves — or were they ever brought up again — such as Choco’s sickness or Eun-gi’s weak and frail nature. These particular points irritated me to no end because it’s one thing for your characters to be sick and thus use those as opportunities to create tension, but it’s another if that’s ALL they were used for. The fact that both Choco and Eun-gi’s sicknesses are not even mentioned once after the first quarter of the drama proves to me that all the writer needed those points for were to create suspense, and that is just cheap writing.

There were also too many plot points that felt out of place and unnecessary, such as Choco and Jae-gil’s relationship, Jae-gil abandoning his wealthy family, Jun-ha’s “gayness” (WTF was this even?). Too much screen time was spent on those things, and not enough was spent developing Jun-ha’s character (Lee Sang-yeob is so lovely as Jun-ha), or even exploring the possible relationship between Ahn Min-young and Jae-hee (a relationship that, as wrong as it is, could’ve been interesting to see unfold if either Kim Tae-hoon or Park Si-yeon were stronger and more nuanced actors).

On the acting front, Song Joong-ki was good and definitely had the chops to show everyone that he’s capable of so much more in the future, but his character left me cold for the most part. If not for the fact that I love him to pieces, I’m not sure I would’ve even liked his character at all. Moon, on the other hand, I don’t think was steely enough for her character, and then her character was also not that well-written, so it was disappointing on both fronts. Park I’ve never been a fan of outside of her role in Coffee House, and yet she keeps getting cast in these types of melodramatic roles, so I think both her and her agent are misunderstanding where Park’s strengths as an actress lie.

Nice Guy as a whole is a completely forgettable drama that had more potential than it actually showcased. It was overall a disappointment and a drama that became more and more hyped towards the middle of the run, which puzzles me and proves yet again that relying on tropes and cliches is still what brings in ratings, regardless of quality of storytelling.

  • Kübra

    i completelyyyyy disagree with u sorryy! :(

  • KT

    I got to episode 6 and lost interest.

  • Pingback: SB Spotlight: My 2012 Love Letter to Song Joong-ki | seoulbeats()

  • hh

    Just thought I show my support for this. I still don’t understand the hype people have for this drama. The premise for revenge was there, just the way it was set up and the characters’ development…or lack up, made it a nonsense drama. In the end, I rooted it for…no one.

  • Bianca

    At least we now have a follow up to Big Bang’s Lies MV.

  • Mary

    After reading I must say that I agree about your view of the plot and characters development. I never liked Moon role because it seems to me… how to call so “toxic”. I though in some way that she would change during the plot but she become worst & the change at the end was to me… what is this?! ~ Anyways Park’s role at least has a development [her acting is very good] and she keep us focused… I liked when she said at the end that she must be strong to up the mountain… it’s curious because It’s where Kang Maru works, After all he is “the love of her life”.
    As for Joong Ki’s role is epic… nothing to comment about because he is a fabulous actor.
    Anyways the last episode is weak and nothing match with the whole serie… Maru’s lost memory (part of) hmm yes he don’t remember the people but his past.

    When he was asked about a possible season 2 he said “a man never forgets his first love…” I believe that he had more chemestry with Park Si Yeon since, he brough a cake for her b-day when they were filming… so cute.

    Finally, It’s a great Drama, one of the best I’ve seen… just it does lose the road… because the sttory is about Maru & Jae.-

  • kdramafanatic

    I disagree too. NG is one of my fav dramas. I think its much better than some overrated Korean dramas. I agree that some parts may be poorly written but its a tight knit drama that delivers well.

  • Avery

    That is a harsh review for Nice Guy. It’s one of the better dramas I’ve seen in the longest time in K dramaland. While I think that it has its limitations, it had a pretty solid storyline. They should’ve stuck with EunGi’s tough character, Maru’s transition from JaeHee to EunGi should’ve been smoother. I guess that 20 episodes was too short for them to make those transitions. Just when I felt EunGi’s grief and anger after her father’s death, she has amnesia, that to me was frustrating. But it was this drama that got me interested in the two leads. Initially, I thought they were eye candies for this drama, but didn’t imagine the depth of their characters got me excited for each episode. Well done, nevertheless!